Stephany C. Coakley PhD., LPC

Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC)

(866) 277-3401

Condition Your Core

What would you think if you were training with a coach who told you that you didn’t have to work on your core muscle (abs, back, hips)? You probably wouldn’t train with that coach for much longer! Every athlete knows that a strong core powers movement and this is developed through targeted training. The core is literally at the center connecting the top and the lower halves of the body, and we engage the core for most movements. When you have a strong core you have greater power, endurance, balance and flexibility. Other benefits of having a strong core include: injury prevention, protection for the spinal cord and internal organs, and reduced back pain. All sports require a strong core to perform the skills necessary for participation. A weak, underdeveloped core can undermine sport performance and increase risk of injury. For many athletes and non-athletes alike, a powerful midsection is a prized possession!

But what about the other core? Your mental core? I am referring to confidence. Confidence is at the center of mental strength, endurance, and flexibility. Confidence is a core mental skill…yet most athletes and coaches fail to systematically develop and train this vital mental muscle. When you ignore confidence training you will realize – at the least opportune time – just how fragile and fleeting confidence is. A few weeks ago I was working with a group of athletes and asked one of them to perform a simple task. Before performing the task I asked him how confident he was that he could successfully accomplish the task. His answer was 99%. I was surprised that he had doubt – even 1% – because the task was so simple. Training confidence is important because doubt is insidious; it can creep in and destroy confidence at any time unless you have strategies to deal with it. After a minute of practicing the task I asked him to do it again, this time he was blind-folded. When I asked him how confident he was that he could successfully perform the task, this time his answer – 80%. In 1 minute his confidence went from 99% to 80%. The task – throw a ball to a teammate 6 feet away.

This is a perfect example of how fragile confidence can be. He had the same skill, equipment, teammate, and the benefit of practice but because he couldn’t see – doubt entered. A person does not need to see to throw a ball! The more doubt that an athlete has the less confidence they have. A lack of confidence is a barrier to optimal performance.

Confidence is a belief that you are capable of performing a pre-determined task, and athletes who consistently perform at a high level day in and day out have trained their belief. They believe that they have what it takes to get the job done – in any situation. This doesn’t happen overnight, this belief is cultivated through targeted training using a variety of techniques to help focus their thoughts in an effective way and build their confidence. To defend against doubt, you must condition your mental core. Here are a few strategies for you to gain and maintain your confidence – in any situation.

  1. Develop a mental cue. Practice focusing on the task-at-hand and not letting negative thoughts interfere with what you are trying to accomplish. Golfer Tommy Bolt is famous for saying “The mind messes up more shots than the body” – it’s true! Focus on what you want to do by using a mental cue. A mental cue like “block and tackle” or “protect the ball” is instructional self-talk. It gives your mind something productive to focus on, and more importantly it erases the negative self-talk because the mind can only focus on one thing at a time.


  1. Strike a power pose. Your body language can give away valuable information about your thoughts and emotions – and it can hurt you. Researchers Amy Cuddy and Sian Beilock have examined body language and reveal how we move our body and hold our body affects how we think. It affects our biochemistry (increase in testosterone, decrease in cortisol). It affects our confidence. It can even affect how other people view us. To protect your confidence, begin to exhibit a confident posture. Hold your head up high if you’re on top of your game or if your game’s on top of you!   Practice a confident posture during practice, walking down the hallway in school, or sitting on the bus.   Let your body language say “I am confident and I belong in the game!”


  1. Focus on your strengths – EVERY DAY. Make yourself a Greatest Hits list! Start by writing out your best qualities and things that people compliment you on. Be inclusive! Include: physical and sport-related qualities, interpersonal, mental and emotional qualities. If you are one of the fastest people on your team; have great basketball intelligence; are kind to your grandmother (and everyone else for that matter) – then speed, basketball intelligence and kindness should appear on your Greatest Hits list. When you’re satisfied that your list is complete, post your list somewhere where you can see it and use one strength in a new way every day. Focusing on and using your strengths creates positive emotions and other benefits such as increased self-esteem, improved health, and optimal performance.


  1. Practice effective thinking. Create impact statements and then practice using them. For example you have been struggling with your fastball, all of a sudden people don’t fear your pitch and as a result your confidence is getting worse and worse. Get creative with your impact statement, practice saying “my fastball is your nightmare”! But it’s not enough to create an impact statement – you have to allow it to build confidence through repetition. Say it when you’re in the shower, repeat it when you’re doing push-ups, set it as a reminder on your cell phone, hang it on the wall.   You get what your mind sets, each time you have the thought – you’re training your confidence.

Not only will targeted training of your mental core protect your confidence when you fumble, or the pressure is on and the consequences of your performance matter but these strategies can boost your confidence when you’re on top. Practice – using cues to focus, striking power poses, reviewing your Greatest Hits daily and thinking effectively. You don’t neglect to do planks or push-ups that develop and strengthen your midsection; so don’t neglect to condition your mental core!



Written by: Stephany C. Coakley